All too often we go looking for spies when the source of enemy theft is ourselves. We are careless. Let’s consider a few examples of how your computer may be compromised while traveling. Consider if any of these risks apply within your own company.

How to Keep Your Classified Briefing Safe During Travel

Let’s say you are getting ready for a business trip. You are supposed to brief, and your briefing is classified. How do you protect the classified information? Remember the scene in Karate Kid? Mr. Miagi asked his young student, ‘How do you best protect against a punch?’ After some thought, his protege admitted he didn’t know. ‘Don’t be there,’ counseled Miagi. The same applies to a briefing. If you have a briefing, don’t bring it with you as you travel to the briefing site. Your briefing won’t be with you at the airport, won’t be in your hotel room when you aren’t there, and won’t be with you as you maneuver through a town you don’t know.

Better yet, don’t bring a computer if you can afford not to. I remember a young government employee who went to a southeast Asian country. He arrived for return boarding, as the guidance was to arrive a couple hours early. Before check-in, while sitting with his belongings, he noticed someone watching him. Our traveler reached and checked his wallet, then his computer. Both were safe. Upon getting into the registration line, a lady standing behind him began to scream at him in a foreign language. He was transfixed by the bizarre actions of the woman when the same man whisked into line and snatched one of his bags!  Our traveler gave chase, and ran like the wind shouting, “Stop, thief!”  Nearby police came running, and eventually the man was caught.

Forced to open the bag he carried, the ‘thief’ produced only his own clothes.  Our perplexed traveler returned to his place in line to find all his property gone…and his pocket picked!  The only good thing which came of that day was he had nothing on the computer.

How to NOT Be a Number One Target

I can hear the sounds of wailing, ‘Not taking a computer is like not taking a breath of air after diving underwater!’ Think about this. Computers are the number one target of all thieves today. Not just spies. Thieves have figured out that there are gigantic numbers people will pay for information you carry, and not just overseas. So, don’t take it. Arrange to have the briefing sent securely, and use a computer and projector pre-positioned at the cleared site you will brief at.

“But I NEED my computer!” whines the chorus.  Oh, in that case, clear it. By that, I mean purge it of absolutely everything. Why?  Who knows what wonders could be pieced together by someone who gets his hands on what you have located on your hard drive.

Arrange to have a cleaned (purged) computer available for TDYs or business trips. Anyone who goes anywhere can use it. Why? This way, the cleaning lady in your room, whose job it might be to ‘clean’ your computer of all its information, won’t get anything when you are out at a restaurant. (Where of course you won’t be talking about work, either!)  For that matter, never, ever take free computer related items offered at conferences.

This is also why you should be well acquainted with your company’s computer threat officer. You have one, of course. She is the one who will arrange to have the FBI or other appropriate federal investigators give your company briefings on the latest threats. And the briefings are different, based on where you are going, because the threats are always changing. Make it a practice to get a pre-travel computer threat briefing as a part of your preparation for official travel. After all, you never want to be uninformed.

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.